Brazilian, Venezuelan presidents call for a united, integrated South America

Brasilia, May 29 (EFE).- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said here Monday that their countries are ready to participate in the construction of a united, integrated South America.

The two leftist leaders addressed the media after holding a private meeting at this capital’s Planalto presidential palace, where the Venezuelan head of state was received with state honors prior to his participation in Tuesday’s South American summit in this capital.

That gathering will bring together Lula and the presidents of 11 other South American countries with the goal of resuming a regional integration process that has virtually ground to a halt in recent years.

Lula said “no (South American) country in 500 years of history has managed to transform itself into a high-income country” and that no nation today “is going to be able to (achieve that goal) alone.”

He therefore called for the region to form a bloc and negotiate with individual countries or other trade blocs “with more power, more strength and more possibility of winning.”

His Venezuelan counterpart said he agreed and that Venezuela is ready to participate in the construction of a new South America based on fraternity and solidarity.

Referring to Venezuela’s severe economic problems in recent years, Maduro said his country has been the target of an “ideological” siege mounted by the global far right, adding that it “has resisted” and is ready to “work on building a new map of (regional) cooperation.”

The Venezuelan president is making his first visit to Brasilia since 2015, when Lula’s protege, Dilma Rousseff, was still Brazil’s head of state.

Bilateral relations subsequently cooled after Rousseff was removed from office via an impeachment process and replaced by conservative Michel Temer.

Ties worsened even further after the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, who closed the Brazilian embassy in Caracas and issued an executive order prohibiting Maduro from entering Brazil.

Lula revoked that degree upon taking office for a third term on Jan. 1 of this year and ordered the immediate re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Venezuela at all levels.

Maduro said Brazil had “closed all the doors and even the windows” but now once again is open to all of South America.

Venezuela “has gone through very difficult moments” and was on the receiving end of “900 economic sanction measures that they fired at us like missiles,” Maduro said, referring in particular to punitive steps by the United States that targeted that nation’s petroleum, mining, food and banking industries.

The US said the sanctions were justified by Venezuela’s poor human rights record, links with the illegal drug trade, high levels of state corruption and election rigging.

As part of efforts by the US and its allies to drive Maduro out of office, dozens of Western countries in early 2019 recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido (who had recently taken office as head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature but was still virtually unknown internationally) as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Lula said Monday that the decision by democratic countries in Europe and the Americas to grant that recognition to Guaido was “absurd.”

He added that he “fought” with European social democrats and with politicians in the US and countries of the Americas over their recognition of Guaido, who also was supported by Bolsonaro.

“I told the Europeans that I didn’t understand how a fully democratic continent like Europe could support the idea of an impostor being president,” Lula said in reference to Guaido.

Lula said of Maduro that he had been elected president by the “people” on two occasions – in 2013 and 2018.

Even so, he said it is up to the Venezuelan leader to ensure free general elections in 2024.

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